BHS rugby coach eagerly takes on unique challenges

Every year, the Bearden rugby team is faced with a problem they have to fix before they can move forward: Most new players don’t even know how to play the sport. “Most of our young men who come out and play, they certainly don’t know the rules of the game,” Coach Marty Bradley said. “They have a vague understanding of the objectives of the game, but most of them are learning as they go.” These new players need to learn quickly and are certainly being taught by the right man. Coach Bradley, in his second year with the Bulldogs, has coached the men’s rugby team at the University of Tennessee since 1996, coached several regional collegiate all-star teams, and served as the director of the Smoky Mountain High School Rugby Conference since 2001. Even though it may seem odd for such an accomplished coach to join a relatively new high school program, Coach Bradley says that the time and circumstances were right for him. “I had thought about at some point maybe wanting to coach a high school team, and the Bearden coaching position just kind of came open,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for Bearden High School and the support the administration provides the rugby team, so I just decided to give it a shot.” The team understands how fortunate they are to have a coach with such an impressive pedigree, and the players recognize his contribution to the team. “I can’t think of anybody that doesn’t respect him,” sophomore Elijah Bickel said. “Everybody that I know loves him, and he’s harsh when he needs to be, but he’s also very understanding. “He gets our generation very well, and he’s just an excellent well-rounded coach." Bradley’s contributions extend further than just coaching. For the first weeks of practice, he has to help returning players grow and to help new players learn the game. “I see my job as kind of two-fold: I’m a teacher and I’m a coach,” Coach Bradley said. “I have to teach them how to play, and I have to coach them how to win. “And I have to be really careful and balance those two things with a new team like this because there are only a handful of guys on the team who have played before.” But Coach Bradley does not necessarily ease players into the game. Because rugby is a contact sport, the practices are just that: players hitting without pads. “We’re teaching these guys to make good decisions under extreme pressure,” Coach Bradley said. “We’re full contact in practice because of that, because we need every minute we can get on the practice field.” Throughout the season, Coach Bradley relies on experienced players and captains to help him train the new players and teach them the little things. “We leave more of the general coaching to Marty,” senior captain Colton LeBoeuf said. “But when we see someone struggling with a specific skill, we’ll pull him aside and show him what to do.” Coach Bradley praises the captains for their patience with the new players, especially in the early weeks when they have yet to gain a firm grasp of the game. “One thing is, they’re very accepting,” Coach Bradley said. “They understand that a new guy coming out for the team is going to make mistakes—that just happens—and they’re very encouraging with those things.” One setback for the new program is the lack of a regulation-sized practice field. Even though the team works with the small field behind the outfield wall of the baseball field, they admit that it can make games more challenging. “We practice on a tiny field and that makes the transition to the normal-sized field during the game a lot tougher,” LeBoeuf said. But despite a makeshift practice field and a fairly inexperienced program, the rugby team is confident in this season and their future under Coach Bradley. The Bulldogs are 4-1 so far on their 2012 campaign and play Farragut on Tuesday at 6 p.m. Aidan Sears is a staff writer for The Bark. Follow The Bark on Twitter @BeardenBARK, and like The Bark (Bearden High School) on Facebook.